Dallas County

Federal COVID-19 Relief Money to End as Pandemic Worsens

Tuesday was expected to be the 5th day in a row exceeding 15% of North Texas hospital patients being treated for COVID-19

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The federal relief money Dallas County and other local governments have used to pay for testing and other COVID-19 services must be used by Dec. 31. But positive cases and hospitalization are on the rise, with an ongoing need for all of those services.

Dallas Fort Worth Hospital Council President Stephen Love represents 90 hospitals in the region.

Love said Tuesday was expected to be the 5th day in a row exceeding 15% of hospital patients in the region being treated for COVID-19. Seven days is the trigger for returning to tough restrictions in the Texas Governor's orders.

Improvements in the length of hospital stays have been reported, but Love said the number of patients is rising at a faster rate.

"The front door has got even more patients coming in so it more than offsets," Love said.

He told Dallas County Commissioners Tuesday about the story he heard from one hospital administrator about employees who been facing COVID-19 deaths all year.

“The doctors and the clinicians and the nurses were on break, and they were all crying,” Love said. “Our workforce is the resource we worry about the most.”

Dallas County Health Director Dr. Philip Huang said just 52 intensive care beds were available in Dallas County hospitals Tuesday. But another expert said even fewer ICU beds remaining at hospitals in outlying counties means that more COVID-19 patients will be transferred to the Dallas hospitals.

“The message should be clear. It’s a very critical situation. It’s getting worse.  Even if we have 52 beds, ICU beds available, that is very serious, concerning, alarming of where we are in this situation,” Huang said.

Two Dallas County Commissioners raised concerns Tuesday about the effectiveness of the federal money that’s been used so far with that source of funding about to end.

J.J. Koch and John Wiley Price said there is no way to track results.

“We do have a lack of metrics problem. We are building something robust in contact tracing and that is healthy, but it's only healthy if there is a payoff,” Koch said.

Around $10 million of the federal money was devoted to Dallas County contact tracing and data collection improvements.

With so many positive cases reported, it was often impossible to trace contacts and the source of those infections to combat the disease.

“It’s similar to a fire extinguisher in the face of a forest fire. A fire extinguisher is great when my kitchen is going up, but I’ve got the whole forest in conflagration,” Koch said. “We’re facing a deadline and if the deadline is such that we cannot definitively say that $1,000 over in contact tracing is more valuable than more spending in more hospital beds and medicine, then we’ve got to shift the funding.”

Huang said data management improvements will pay off in the future and have already produced results for this pandemic.

“These are saving lives of people and preventing further illness,” he said.

Price said Health Department information provides no business case for the spending.

“Your talking points are always the same, I hear that, but I still see the numbers,” Price said. “I’m asking for a plan.”

Dallas County Administrator Darryl Martin said he has a meeting scheduled Friday with City of Dallas officials, who face the same loss of federal funding.

“We need to get together and figure out what’s the best use of our resources from this point, and after Jan. 1. Because Jan. 1, we still have to test, testing is still going to be important, we have to find dollars to do that. And we have to figure out, what’s the best use of this contact tracing program as well,” Martin said.

Martin promised to return to Dallas County Commissioners with a plan later in December.

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